Autonomous vehicle companies aim to build 'world's safest driver' amid rise in traffic deaths

Dustin Dorsey Image
Friday, July 21, 2023
Can autonomous vehicles curtail traffic deaths?
Amid rise in traffic deaths, autonomous vehicle companies believe saving lives on the streets may come from taking the driver out of the equation.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose had its 28th traffic fatality on city streets Thursday morning. It's behind the record pace from a year ago, where there were 40 victims this time in 2022. But, leaders are looking for solutions.

Autonomous vehicle companies believe saving lives on the streets may come from taking the driver out of the equation.

Mountain View's 2023 technology showcase displayed possible solutions for tomorrow based on advances in fields such as artificial intelligence, medical technology and autonomous vehicles.

"Wide range of activity that not only solves for things here in the United States, but also worldwide," City of Mountain View economic vitality Manager John Lang said.

Companies like Waymo, Kodiak and Aurora were featured in the showcase as they are all working to save lives on streets, roads and highways across the world.

MORE: CPUC delays vote on expanding autonomous cars in San Francisco

"Our founders, that was the problem they were looking to solve: how do we make these roadways safer," Aurora senior manager of govt. relations Sydnee Journel said.

They do this through technology to identify risks before a normal driver would.

A video provided to ABC7 News shows one of their driverless trucks detecting and avoiding a pedestrian crossing the road hundreds of meters away.

"The Aurora driver can see thousands of objects at once and determine what are these objects doing and should I slow down, accelerate or pull over," Journel said. "They're thinking about this at all times. So we think there are tremendous safety benefits."

Though driverless vehicles are somewhat controversial, they don't speed, run red lights, or consume alcohol - those are three factors San Jose police say appear to be involved in a fatal crash Thursday morning.

This is the city's 28th traffic-related death this year.

MORE: Here's how San Jose plans to use artificial intelligence to stop pedestrian traffic deaths

While police call safety on the streets a shared responsibility, they say there is a problem with drivers' behavior, highlighted by the number of traffic tickets issued.

"Just last year alone, officers cited over 19,000 individuals in the City of San Jose and on the streets of San Jose, not to tell them they're bad people, but to curtail their driving behaviors," SJPD Ofc. Steve Aponte said.

Police say they expect to issue more citations this year.

Which raises the question: would taking the driver out of the equation eliminate the risks from bad driving behavior?

"We all think that we're great human drivers, right?" Journel said. "We all think that of ourselves and the fact is, we get distracted easily. So, this is technology that helps take some of that away. We're helping solve the issue of our trucks don't get tired and they don't get distracted."

And that hopefully means that lives don't get taken on the streets.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live